By Ian Cory
You can find Ian Cory's "Best Songs of 2014" playlist here.
If you read my last quarterly recap, you’ll know that I spent the first three months of the year alternating between pining for the warmth of spring and wallowing in the despair of winter. Thankfully, after what seems like an eternity, the cold receded and spring finally sprung, bringing with it livable weather conditions and a whole bunch of new music. Now normally by the time a year reaches its midway point, an overarching narrative starts to become pretty clear. But six months into 2014, very little has proven to stick. In some ways, the narrative of 2014 is that there is no narrative of 2014, especially in comparison to the star-studded releases from 2013. But despite lacking in a zeitgeist grabbing tent pole record, the high standard of quality set by the year’s first quarter has yet to drop three months later.
Given all of the immensely shitty news for women in the last three months, it shouldn’t be too surprising that one of the most vitriolic punk records of the year would come from a female led band. But beyond righteous fury, 2014 seems to be a huge year for women in music, particularly in the way that the “sad girl” aesthetic has exploded. It turns out that Marissa Nadler’s July was only a precursor. On the mainstream level there’s Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, a record that takes her melodramatic style to its logical extremes, while in the indie sphere, Lykke Li has delivered the year’s most tightly constructed and heart rending breakup record in the form of I Never Learn. And though it has yet to fully sink in with me, Emma Ruth Rundle’s Some Heavy Ocean is a fittingly spooky companion piece to her Sargent House label mate Chelsea Wolfe’s excellent release from last year.
Sometimes however, the best albums of the year are the ones that can’t be squared away into a clearly defined narrative or trend. Such is the case with To Be Kind, the new album from Swans. Since reuniting the band back in 2010, Michael Gira has proven that age has done nothing to diminish his need to push the boundaries of his art, or the limits of his audience's comfort. Like 2012’s The Seer, To Be Kind is a massive undertaking at two hours in ten songs, a good deal of which crossing the 10-minute mark and then some. But while the essential ingredients to the new Swans sound remain intact (hypnotizing repetition, mind numbingly dense blocks of sound and the distinct sensation that your brain is melting out of your ears), this time around Gira and company have given an oddly positive spin to their otherwise soul crushing sound. Underneath the multilayered percussion, horse sounds, and blood curdling screams beats a heart filled with something almost like love. The heat of summer is bearing down on us as I write this, but I’m only excited about what the next three months have to offer. In the words of Gira himself, BRING ON THE SUN.
Other Great Stuff:
- Fucked Up’s Glass Boys, a fantastic “we’re getting old” punk record that brought me into this band’s camp in a big way after years of ambivalence
- How To Dress Well’s “What Is This Heart?” which I expect will be a grower, and a shoe-in for a lot of the end of the year discussion
- Lil B’s Hoop Life which proves that The Based God is at his best when he has a concrete theme to work with. It doesn’t hurt that “Fuck KD” is the most delightfully batshit and downright catchy song he’s done in years.
Photo from Chart Attack